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Are Bully Sticks Safe for Puppies? Vet-Reviewed Nutrition & Safety Facts

Written by: Ed Malaker

Last Updated on May 20, 2024 by Dogster Team

beagle puppy chewing bully stick

Are Bully Sticks Safe for Puppies? Vet-Reviewed Nutrition & Safety Facts

VET APPROVED

Dr. Maja Platisa Photo

REVIEWED & FACT-CHECKED BY

Dr. Maja Platisa

DVM MRCVS (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

Learn more »

We all love to give our pets treats, and there are plenty of options out there. Some will be better than others, so we must be vigilant about watching ingredients and other factors to make sure the treats are healthy and appropriate. One question a lot of people are asking us is if Bully Sticks are safe for their pets. The short answer is yes, they are but keep reading while we take a closer look to see what the ingredients are and how often we can provide them to help you stay better informed.

There are certain precautions you should take and be aware of if deciding to give your pooch bully sticks. Always consider consulting with your veterinarian before giving your dog or puppy new or unfamiliar treats, and supervise them while gnawing on hard chews in particular.

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What Are Bully Sticks?

Bully treats are a modern snack that many owners hold in high praise. It’s deemed safer than rawhide and bones, which can be a choking hazard. Besides the choking danger that rawhide presents, it can also cause a blockage in your pet’s intestines if they chew off big pieces and end up swallowing them, due to its poor digestibility.

Bully sticks are a meat tendon sourced from steer penises. The steer is a male bovine used for meat, so farmers usually castrate the animal early and slaughter it at about 18 months old. The steer penis is a meat byproduct because it’s not suitable for human consumption, but it might find its way into some pet foods labeled with this description.

Bully stick

How Are Bully Sticks Made?

The Bully Stick can be raw, cooked, or dried, very commonly being produced raw and dehydrated. We recommend cooked brands because there is a better chance there are no significant bacteria that can lead to an upset stomach, diarrhea, and other health problems. The drying process partially cooks dried sticks, but there is still a chance that some bacteria are present in the meat.

A study conducted in 2013 has shown that a small portion of Bully Sticks may be contaminated with bacteria such as Escherichia coli, Clostridium difficile and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, a leading cause of hospital-acquired infections and complications. This shows the importance of being mindful and vigilant about handling dog food and treats, particularly raw products, which also pose a significant health risk for humans.

Bully Sticks Come in Many Varieties

You can purchase Bully Stick in many varieties. There are several sizes available to suit any size dog, and while they are all beef, you can even get them in different flavors like chicken, hickory smoke, bacon, and more. However, flavoring is an extra ingredient that indicates the sticks have been further processed from their original form, and these extra ingredients are not necessarily the healthiest option. Since there are so many varieties, it’s easy to find one perfect for your pet with a little experimentation, but we recommend sticking to verified or American-made brands and checking that the label is clearly identifiable and states the origin and ingredients of the product. Some chews may have been mislabeled as bully sticks and instead made from mixing other animal byproducts, such as hooves, bones, blood, offal, and others.

Are Bully Sticks Good for My Pet?

Bully Sticks can be a good treat for some dogs as they are usually single-ingredient. However, they are quite caloric, having a mean caloric density of 15 kcal/inch (38 kcal/cm). This means that it’s not appropriate to give your pooch a Bully Stick every day, or even more than once or twice per week, as depending on their size, you can easily reach their total daily treat caloric intake, which should be under 10% of daily food requirements. Otherwise you risk overfeeding them which over time leads to obesity and various health issues.

The Bully Sticks are tough, so they may substitute rawhide and provide the same benefits, like cleaner teeth, while getting additional benefits of animal protein and a fulfilling chewing experience. They are not a replacement for regular teeth brushing, but they may help in reducing or slowing down plaque buildup.

However, Bully Sticks are hard, so they may not be suitable for dogs with sensitive teeth or other mouth problems, and they are not the best option for young puppies. We also recommend avoiding brands that claim to have no odor because these are smelly treats, and if they don’t have an odor, there is a good chance they use a chemical to remove the smell. Low odor brands usually use a modified cooking process to reduce odor.

Chewing on Bully Sticks is not completely without risks. Some dogs may damage their teeth, or may break off a large piece which they can try and swallow. This could lead to choking, or if they do manage to swallow it, these pieces can lead to a stomach upset, or may even cause a blockage in rare cases. Always supervise your dog while chewing Bully Sticks or other chews.

Bully Stick
Image Credit: Dmitriev Mikhail, Shutterstock

Are Bully Sticks Good for My Puppy?

It depends on the puppy’s age, size and breed, chewing preferences, and training status. The Bully Stick is a great treat to give to your puppy in a sense that there are no harmful ingredients. The meat is completely digestible, so it’s less likely to cause problems like rawhide. The amount of protein in the chew is not really significant enough to have a role in the puppy’s growth and development, and this is achieved through eating a well-balanced diet formulated according to AAFCO guidelines. Some puppies may develop a stomach upset from eating Bully Sticks, while others may try and swallow pieces too big for them, that may cause choking or other digestive issues.

Finally, there’s a lot of calories in Bully Sticks, and they are not an appropriate treat for training, due to their size and inability to be easily broken into pieces. It may be considered for a grown puppy with a permanent set of teeth, as an occasional chew, used to combat boredom.

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Which Bully Sticks Are the Best? (Top 3)

Since there are so many different brands of Bully Sticks available, we thought we would point out some of our favorites to help you get started with these healthy treats.

However, these choices do not reflect the opinion of our veterinarian, and are the author’s choice based on available information. Always supervise your pet while they’re chewing Bully Sticks.

1. Nature Gnaws Extra Thin Bully Sticks

Nature Gnaws Extra Thin

The Nature Gnaws Extra Thin Bully Sticks are fantastic small treats that are perfect for puppies. These Bully Sticks are extra thin and are well suited for smaller dogs. There are no additional ingredients, and each treat is hand-selected so your pet will have the best experience.


2. Jack & Pup Thick Bully Stick

Jack & Pup Thick Bully Stick

The Jack & Pup Thick Bully Stick is a premium Bully Stick that many dogs will enjoy. It’s a little larger than the last brand at six inches, and it’s perfectly suited to larger puppies and smaller dogs.


3. Pawstruck Junior Beef Gullet Bully Sticks Dog Treats

Pawstruck Junior Beef Gullet

The Pawstruck Junior Beef Gullet Bully Sticks Dog Treats are five inches long, and you get quite a few in each package. It’s a brand of free-range beef esophagus instead of the penis, so it has much less odor while still providing all of the same features. These are a bit thinner than many normal Bully Sticks, but most dogs seem to enjoy them. They also have the braided Bully Sticks, in case you want to try these for your pooch.

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Summary

Bully Sticks might not be something we’d eat as humans, but they can make an appropriate occasional treat for some puppies, depending on their age. Due to their size and firmness, there is a risk of choking, teeth damage, or digestive issues for some dogs, so they should always be supervised while chewing. These treats also help promote cleaner teeth, and they can keep your pet busy for quite a while. Another downside is that they can smell bad, and are also high in calories, while some may be contaminated with bacteria, so be vigilant when handling them and offering them to your dog.

We hope you have enjoyed reading over this short guide and found the answers you need. If we have convinced you to get these treats for your pet, please share our look into if Bully Sticks are safe for puppies on Facebook and Twitter.


Featured Image Credit: Iryna Imago, Shutterstock

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